|Bae's Shoulder and Hip Separation|
Many of my blog posts go over the same information, again and again, in different ways. That's because golf is often based on feels, and everyone learns a different feeling to engrain some fundamental. I write about what I try and what I find useful, primarily so that I can go back and revisit these things from time-to-time. I revisit them because they're the fundamentals that can easily be forgotten or overlooked; a round can suddenly go south because a grip has drifted too weak or too strong, pre-shot alignment is rushed and faulty, an unconsious sway on the backswing, improper weight distribution, etc.
I've posted extensively on the hips' role, the shoulders' role, how to pivot, separation, about lag, creating distance, etc. But I wanted to spend a few more electrons on the subject of separating the hips from the shoulders to generate power. Now, I've examined Jim McClean's X-Factor a few times on here, and you'll find the usual for-and-against golf enthusiasts out there on the interwebs debating that very subject. Reputable instructors will offer up valid logic on why you should or should not resist with your lower body while your shoulders turn on the backswing. Take a stance on just about any "unassailable" fundamental of golf and you will eventually find someone--someone with a low or scratch handicap--who disagrees.
I believe that the so-called "X-Factor" of hip and shoulder separation is far more important in the transition and early downswing at generating power and consistency than using separation in the takeaway and backswing to generate potential power. I believe this because there are examples of long-hitting professionals who turn their hips a lot on the backswing (more than they believe or more than Jim McClean says they should). But on the downswing, their hips ALWAYS start first, before ANYTHING else moves; I haven't seen slow-motion video yet of a single professional golfer who moves the shoulders before the hips (if they did, they would immediately be OTT and NOT hitting inside-out). Their entire pelvis shifts towards the target a few inches (and thus so do both knees, pushing weight into the left leg) and then rotates (the belt buckle turns) towards the target, followed closely and sequentially by the belly, shoulders, arms, hands, the club, and finally the club head. This sequential unwinding "from the ground up" produces the kinematic sequence--the use of the entire body somewhat like a whip to send energy from the ground up and out (inside-out) through the club head and into the ball.
Sticking with the belt buckle swing thought mentioned above, try to start your downswing by first moving the belt buckle over the left (or front) leg WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY rotating the belt buckle towards the target. All of this should happen while the shoulders are still mostly closed and the arms completely passive--almost floating. Another way to think of this--to ensure you're not throwing, casting, or hitting with your arms from the top--is to imagine that you have a golf club extending from your belt buckle and that you're trying to hit the ball using nothing but the belt buckle motion, while your arms come through afterwards with a second club. Your arms are lagging behind your belt buckle. FORGET YOUR ARMS! They will naturally, quickly, and fluidly follow the motion of your lower body. I've found that thinking of hitting the ball with my belt buckle (thus shifting my belt buckle targetward and rotating around at the same time) helps keep the instinct to hit the ball with the arms at bay.
A "from the ground up" downswing, that enables hip motion to separate from shoulder motion, starts in the feet and how the weight is distributed in them--front-to-back--to provide balance. Verified when I recently took a golf lesson from a local PGA teaching pro, I've had a bad habit of sitting back on my heels when taking my stance (setup as part of GASP), and this can absolutely destroy the ability to easily shift the hips forward and rotate and properly. I've had to make sure that my weight is shifted into the balls of my feet (shifted towards my toes but not in my toes); the weight is mostly in the arches, balanced evenly between the heels and toes. One should only be on the heels for a lie below the feet, and only on the toes for a lie above the feet. The correct athletic stance that promotes an easy shift and rotation of the pelvis while the shoulders remain closed feels almost as if one is preparing to dive into a pool or receive a serve in tennis. There are a few teaching professionals (e.g., Chuck Quinton) who, predictably, contradict this fundamental, but most touring professionals, like Tiger Woods and Tom Watson, and teaching professionals, like Shawn Clement and his "suction cup" foot analogy, advocate for the balanced ball-of-the-foot approach, and that seems to work best for me. Chuck's admonition seems related to keeping the left knee healthy (implying this is what caused Tiger's knee woes), but someone like Tom Watson is currently in his 60s and hitting the ball a mile. I think I'll believe Tom Watson and the PGA pro I saw on this one.
At the top, the shoulders should momentarily stay put (stay turned away from the target), while the pelvis (hips) execute the motions described above in the transition to the downswing. The shoulders and arms follow because they physically must do so. No thought should be given to moving the shoulders and arms (and club); simply let the hips start the process and let everything follow and unwind. In a sense (at least in terms of how it should feel), you're making a move to hit the ball with your legs and hips, letting everything else follow! The amount of lag generated by doing this correctly is amazing and the distance and consistency that is achievable by learning to trust this one movement cannot be overstated.
This is useful throughout the bag (except for the putter, where you want a stable lower body). You need to do this in the sand. You need to do this when pitching. You can even do this--albeit very slightly--when chipping. Let the lower body lead and find out how easy this game can be.
For me, this works best with a centralized backswing pivot, where the right shoulder pulls directly back and behind the head; in other words, no swaying. For me, a backswing sway can be so slight and so easily and unintentionally introduced when focusing on the right transition and downswing; it will wreck the benefit of a properly executed downswing sequencing. When you're doing it right--putting both a proper backswing pivot and hip-shoulder separation on the downswing--you'll be fully and naturally posted up on your left leg at the completion of the swing.
Watch your favorite guy on the Tour -- Tiger, Phil, Ernie, Vijay, me, anybody -- and forget about his arms and hands and head when he makes a golf swing. Just focus on his belt buckle.
Then watch another swing, this time trying to focus on your guy's hands in relation to his belt buckle. They're always,
Professional golfers transition to the downswing by moving their lower bodies. In every great golf swing the legs and hips move first. The torso follows the hips; the shoulders follow the torso; the arms follow the shoulders; the hands follow the arms; and the club follows the hands. That’s the order of the downswing. : The sequence is from the ground up. The lower and upper body have to be synchronized. Strong hips and stabilizers create strong downswing.
Just like that basketball player, you want to be on the balls of your feet -- not the heels, not the toes. That's the key to balance. No good athletes in any sport play with their weight back on their heels. It's important that you start with your weight on the balls of your feet and keep it there through impact. You can easily check your set-up position in a full-length mirror.
If you swing your belly button back and through you are activating and/or energizing many of the muscles that Mike Austin wanted you to utilize in the swing, including the internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominis, the glutes and the sartorius, just to name a few. The good news is that you don’t have to think about those muscles, if you don’t want to. Just swing that belly button. The further and faster you move it (albeit smoothly) the further that ball will go.